A look ahead at the key events leading the news agenda next week, from the team at Foresight News.
Leading the week
Rail networks across the country will be brought to a virtual standstill from Tuesday (June 21) as Network Rail staff walk out in a dispute between unions and operators over pay and proposed job cuts. The first day of industrial action affects some 13 operating companies and coincides with a strike on the London Underground, and two further walkouts are planned for Thursday (June 23) and Saturday (June 25) in what the RMT union suggests will be the biggest rail strike for a generation.
With commuters facing maximum disruption for most of next week and entire communities reportedly at risk of being cut off, the political blame game was in full swing as Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer clashed at PMQs amid competing briefings by the government and opposition parties. Describing the walkouts as ‘Labour’s strikes’, the Prime Minister accused Starmer of staying silent while the Labour leader accused Johnson of wanting to ‘feed off the division’ caused by the travel chaos.
The rhetoric was ramped up even further at the end of the week as Transport Secretary Grant Shapps rejected a meeting with RMT officials, who he accused of failing to act in good faith, before warning workers about the potential impact of striking on their future employment and calling union bosses militant. There seems little chance, then, of a last-minute suspension, meaning the rows will continue through next week’s disruption and as further strike action looks likely to take place over the course of the summer.
Thursday (June 23) is high noon for the Conservative Party as voters go to the polls in the hotly anticipated Tiverton and Honiton and Wakefield by-elections. The ballots, triggered by the resignation of Neil Parish and the conviction of Imran Khan, offer the most significant insight into the Tory party’s current national standing since its thumping 2019 General Election win. Tiverton and Honiton has been a party stronghold since 1997, and Neil Parish held the seat for the Tories with a majority of 24,239 in the last election. Parish’s Parliamentary viewing habits notwithstanding, the ongoing fallout from the partygate scandal and the deepening cost of living crisis have now maneuvered the Lib Dems into pole position to pull off a stunning victory.
The real national bellwether though is the fight facing Boris Johnson in Wakefield – a key red wall target seat which he successfully turned blue three years ago. Imran Khan’s conviction for sexual assault has handed Labour a reported 20-point lead in the Yorkshire constituency, which if translated into votes on the day would leave the Conservatives with a sizeable crack in their northern bulwark as the next general election looms into view.
If the stakes weren’t already high enough, rumours abound that Justice Secretary Dominic Raab will unveil his new Bill of Rights this week in an attempt to help prop up the government’s floundering asylum deal with Rwanda. A pre-polling day introduction would allow the Tories to focus minds on ‘taking back control’ of human rights law from Europe and potentially woo some undecided voters, though a roll-out immediately following two very plausible defeats could prove to be a timely distraction.
Three major international summits are set to dominate international news this week: a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels starting on Thursday (June 23-24), a virtual summit of BRICS leaders hosted by Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday and Friday (June 23-24), and the three-day G7 summit hosted by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz starting on Sunday (June 26). The Ukraine war and its sprawling ramifications, laid out in stark terms in a recent UN report, are set to cast a shadow over all three gatherings as the conflict enters its fifth month.
With Ukraine’s NATO aspirations shelved for the foreseeable future, attention has turned to its bid to join the European Union, and the question of whether to grant candidate status is set to be discussed at the European Council after a positive European Commission recommendation today. The BRICS summit, meanwhile, will allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to highlight the support Moscow continues to enjoy from strategic partners and counter claims Russia has become a global pariah as a result of its invasion. Complicating matters, at least two of the participants in the BRICS meeting, India’s Narendra Modi and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, are expected to participate in the G7 summit as ‘outreach’ partners, but have already faced criticism from the West over their neutral stances on Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has also accepted an invitation to join the summit.